Insider Exclusive: 920th Rescue Wing, shielding the skies – serving the nation
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — For those who attend or cover the launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Pave Hawk HH-60G helicopters are a familiar sight buzzing around the Cape and adjacent Kennedy Space Center. In an effort to gain a better understanding of what the 920th Rescue Wing / 301st Rescue Squadron does to support missions to and from orbit, SpaceFlight Insider’s Senior Photographer Michael Howard spoke with the 301st’s Lt. Col. Robert Haston.
Haston serves as a pilot with the 301st Rescue Squadron, which is a part of the 920th Rescue Wing based out of Patrick Air Force Base in Florida.
As a member of the United States Air Force, Haston and his unit are ready to deploy to hostile locations across the globe – at a moment’s notice. However, given where he and his unit are stationed, they also have some very special responsibilities – the security of incredibly expensive hardware as it rides to orbit on fingers of flame, and the spectators who watch history unfold from the ground far below.
Haston finds his work, which has included supporting crewed missions of NASA’s Space Shuttle as they thundered into the black of space, highly rewarding. Much of the ‘routine’ flying Haston and the 301st do is anything but routine.
“The bulk of the flying that we have done, since I have been here in the mid-90s, has been in support of range-clearing duties, where we would get out, about two hours in advance of the launch, and make sure that the down range area off Cape Canaveral is clear of boats,” Haston told SpaceFlight Insider.
The 920th recently had a new addition to its already lengthy list of responsibilities – dealing with a rocket that is returning from deploying payloads into orbit.
What once was the realm of science fiction, SpaceX has turned into repeatable reality. On Dec. 22, 2016, the area around Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1 had to be kept clear of wayward fishing boats and “lookie loos” as a SpaceX Falcon 9 returned from deploying 11 Orbcomm OG2 satellites.
“‘The rocket landing’ – every time I say that I have this old black-and-white Flash Gordon image, ‘Land the Rocket!’, you know?”, Haston said with a grin. “For someone who has lived, from birth, throughout the whole space era, that’s a very big deal.”
With some 28 years’ worth of experience, Haston is the definition of U.S. Air Force officer, complete with the “flight suit swagger” that is a prerequisite for anyone who takes a combat aircraft to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. However, that swagger turned serious when Haston discusses his experiences working with the men and women of the United States Air Force.
“Some of our work comes full circle, we’ll be flying using GPS satellites that we launch right here at the Cape when we’re deployed overseas,” Haston said. “It’s a big mission, like our patch highlights, it’s all over the globe. I’ve been involved with it for 28 years now and it’s been exciting; it’s a big deal and I’m going to miss it.”
Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.